The “But Why’s” of Life

The other day my daughter learned a new word. “Law.” As in “it’s the law.” How did we get to me teaching her a new word? Well, she is living into her newly minted 4 year old sense of independence. She knows what she likes and what she doesn’t like. And tells us about it. A lot.

Like the other day we were driving to church going through a neighborhood and we stopped at a stop sign. And before I could really press on the breaks Elsa said, “Mommy, go faster!” sand my response was, “I can’t honey. It’s the law.”

“Mommy, what’s the law?”

“Well, a law is a rule that we need to obey.”

“But why?”

“Well, that signpost over there tells me to stop. And that’s the law. We need to stop right now..”

To which her response was, “but why?”

Good question. So the next mile of the trip we was talking less about rules, regulations and ordinance codes and more about us driving safely.

“But why?” she would retort.

So then the last mile of the trip was me pointing out all the kids waiting for the bus on the route and how we needed to stop at stop signs so that they were safe and we were safe.

“Oh…well that’s good. You should do that Mommy. It’s good to be safe.”
“Thanks kid. I’m glad I have your approval.”

This whole law thing… she could take it or leave it… but keeping kids waiting for the bus safe…yeah…that was okay in her book.

Oh the “but why’s.” We get them a lot at this stage of parenting. Sometimes what comes out is, “I am your mother. I brought you into this world, so listen to me.”

Now that can sound like a statement of love or a threat depending on how I sound and how she hears it. Law or gift? Perhaps both.

And this morning we heard the 10 commandments from the book of Exodus. And we may wonder what to do with these commandments. Are they law–rules that we need to live by or else? Or are they a gift? A good Lutheran would say, “Yes. They’re both. Law and gift.”

The commandments…they’re sometimes contested as antiquated and best kept in the past on a rock. On the other hand, sometimes they are treated with a naive belief that if we have a big enough sign with 10 commandments on it, people will be good and not act out in violence or hate.

In the end it’s good for us to recall that God has given us these commandments as both law and gift. The commandments begin with something like “I’m your mother, I brought you into this world…” where God tells the Hebrews, “I am the Lord your God, who brought you out of the land of Egypt, out of the house of slavery.” That’s the gift part. These words still have meaning to us today. God reminds us that no matter what, God is God and we are his people. And no matter what we can call on God as our almighty parent… no matter the hour, no matter the situation, no matter what mess we’ve created… I am the Lord your God… nothing can separate us from God and the love we see and live through Jesus. That’s a gift for us. Eternally and right now.

And the commandments…well Martin Luther calls the commandments boundaries and protective guides around the gifts God gives you.

The commandments are kind of like big stop signs. And with each commandment we can see the gift that God intends for us.

The gift of a relationship with God–those are the first three, the gift of mothering and fathering figures who keep you safe, the gift of resources that should be enough that we need not take from another, the gift of life that is precious and shouldn’t be wasted or stolen from another, the gift of relationships that are true and not filled with lies or back stabbing, and the gift of people you love, a home to live in, and friends and neighbor to fill out your life and who you can serve.

So how do you give thanks? Well before asking that–perhaps we need to ask “but why?”

Deep in our identity as followers of Christ lies a seed of truth that when we give, we believe that we’re somehow being like Christ.

But why (as my daughter may ask)? But why do we give thanks with gifts of our treasure?

As a parent and preacher I can speak hours on end about giving my time and talent. But I can sometimes be squeamish talking about money.

Jesus wasn’t squeamish about talking about money at all. Jesus usually told us to be a bit wary of it. And maybe that’s one of the reasons why we give thanks for gifts by giving treasure away.

The “but why” do we give can be found in the gift and law of the commandments. Especially the first and the last 2.

I can tell you from my own life that I’ve sometimes struggled with the first and the last 2 commandments.

Let’s take a look at the 9th and 10th commandment–which is all about coveting other people’s stuff or their lives. There’s been times I’ve really struggled with this one. And when I’m convicted with it…with the law… it points me to the gift of what God gives me every day. And I give of my treasure as a way to counter the very real temptation to covet and not give thanks for the gifts that greet me every time I walk through the front door of my house.

As a parent, as a community leader, and as an adult I struggle more with the first commandment which is built on a trusting relationship with God who has provided me with everything. I struggle because of fear. I make idols of the things that I can hold. And ultimately, I reject that God is God. And that’s why I give…to remind me that my life and everything I hold dear is in God’s hands.

It reminds me of another “but why” conversation I recently had with Elsa.

When our daughter was born our local Thrivent agent sent us a baby gift. It was this blue piggy bank. I guess it shouldn’t be too surprising that an insurance and investment company gives clients a piggy bank. But what got me were the boundaries within the bank. There’s three sections. Spend. Save. Share.

The other day she came across some cold hard cash that we gave to her and we ran up to put it in her piggy bank. I asked her what section we wanted to put her money in. Spend? Save? Or Share? Her response was quick and to the point. “Share mommy.”

“But why?” I asked.
“Because Mommy, you first shared with me.”
The wisdom we can get from our kids, right?

That’s why we give. As Elsa so clearly pointed out to me. Because you, O God, shared with me. You share with us Jesus–who gives us second chances when we messed things up. You share with us mercy and compassion. You share with us the joy of life.

The next question I leave with you, friends because we covered the why…so how can you live today as a gift to our Lord?

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Rev. Sarah Teichmann

Pastor of Christian Formation

Pastor Sarah served as Pastor of Christian Formation at St. Peter’s from 2014 – 2021. She now serves the wider church as a partner at Kirby-Smith Associates.

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